The cinema subgenre of foodie movies may be an acquired taste (sorry), but it’s sizeable and engaging enough that I actually wrote an entire column about it in November 2014. Now, here we are again, on the cusp of the big winter feast trifecta — Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, when food and drink consumption is more than conspicuous. In the spirit of the season (with a glass of spirits at the ready), I find myself seeking out feature films that will sharpen my appetite as the holidays approach, or can serve as distractions — audiovisual hors d’oeuvres, if you will — when the family assembles but has to wait for the turkey to finish cooking.
If that sounds contrived, so be it. But I can tell you the combination of a food-oriented movie and a delectable meal can be a two-pronged pleasure. My friend Andrew actually invited a gang of gastronomically astute pals to his house on a few occasions to view renowned food-oriented movies that were followed by tasting menus based upon the cuisine depicted on screen. It’s possible the movies he screened — including Big Night and Tampopo — made us so hungry we’d devour anything, but we were in good hands with Andrew, who knows his way around an oven.
There are so many food-skewed movies I didn’t cover four years ago or that have been released since my original piece on the topic, I decided to restrict the list this time by considering five foreign films that fit the menu — all of them quite appetizing in their way. Just be glad I’m not suggesting The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover which, despite an opulent, gloriously shot banquet presented throughout, has a climax that is definitely not for the weak of stomach.
‘HAUTE CUISINE’ (2012)
Depicting a highly skilled woman’s struggle to make her mark in a challenging job, this French offering is inspired by the true story of a celebrated chef from the provinces who is surprisingly tapped to be the personal cook to the president of France. She undertakes the gig, and undaunted by the jealousy of the Élysée Palace kitchen staff, she prevails through her passion and the excellence of her cooking.
‘JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI’ (2011)
The only documentary on this list is the work of an American director, David Gelb, so it isn’t strictly a foreign film, although it’s set and shot in Japan and it’s in Japanese (with subtitles). It concerns a remarkable sushi chef: 85-year-old Jiro Ono who owns and operates a Michelin three-star restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station that only seats 10 patrons. While the film explores the art of preparing and serving sushi with care and delicacy, it also covers the master’s thorny relationship with his two sons who are also in the family business.
‘MOSTLY MARTHA’ (2001)
It was remade into a less-than-impressive American version (No Reservations) that starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, but the original is a winsome romantic comedy with a pinch of drama from Germany. An obsessive, successful chef (Martina Gedeck) finds herself reevaluating her life and drawn to her ebullient Italian sous chef. The scenes of rigorous food preparation are great as is the chemistry between the two leads.
‘THE GOD OF COOKERY’ (1996)
Although Stephen Chow may be best known in the United States as the screenwriter, director, and star of two hilarious, cartoon-like slapstick comedies from the 2000s (Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle), the Chinese filmmaker’s most antic and funny movie may very well be this one about a craven, talentless chef who has attained superstar status through fakery, sees his career fall apart, and becomes determined to regain his status through unconventional means. It’s a thoroughly awesome, cross-genre crazy-quilt — top-shelf Chow fun that also manages to satirize cooking competition shows like Iron Chef.
‘THE TRIP TO SPAIN’ (2017)
Even with the welcome return of stars, comic actors, and real-life confederates Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, The Trip to Spain is not quite as delicious as The Trip to Italy, which was the second of the duo’s culinary road-trip series that began with The Trip — a ramble through a series of gourmet destinations in northern England. Still, The Trip to Spain offers more of the scintillating repartee, one-upmanship, and dueling impressions, plus a few serious ruminations on aging from Coogan and Brydon that accompany their ongoing investigation of Europe’s finest dining spots. Throw in the various savory dishes that make their way from kitchen to table to gullet before our eyes, and there’s plenty to recommend this third helping.